ILMU-L-KALAM AS A BRANCH OF ISLAMIC STUDIES

The word Ilmu-l-kalam is of two concepts, Ilm and kalam, meaning “knowledge” and “word” respectively. Ilmu-l-kalam on its own literally means science of debate which denotes a discipline of Islamic thought that is known as scholastic theology. Ilmu-l-kalam evolved from the political and religious controversies that engulfed the Muslim community in its formative years. It deals with the interpretation of religious doctrines and the defense of these interpretations by means of discursive arguments. Ilmu-l-kalam is also one of the Islamic sciences, which deals with the fundamentals of Islamic doctrines. Ilmu-l-kalam also attempts to assimilate philosophical themes and questions. As described by Al-Iji, he speaks of Ilmu-l-kalam as a “science which makes it possible to prove the truth of religious doctrine by marshalling arguments and repelling doubts. He also sees it as a “knowledge on which the proofs of religious doctrines depend, directly or indirectly”. In a succinct manner and going by the definitions given above, Ilmu-l-kalam is a science that includes fundamentals of religious beliefs, such as God, his attributes and acts, the proofs of religious doctrines, the nature of the universe and our place on it. The rise of Ilmu-l-kalam can be closely associated with two main groups viz Al-Ashari {873-953} who is a resurgence of traditionalism, on whose authority the Ash’ariyya school emerged; and Mu’tazilla, a rationalist school that emerged from the beginning of the second century A.H. {Seventh Century A.D.}. Since Ilmu-l-kalam is a science of “debate”, “argument” or “discussion”, is theme is viewed from the angle of politics and religion as a branch of Islamic studies. Those who engaged in these discussions were referred to as MUTAKALIMUM. The proponents of kalam liked to refer to it as Ilmu-al-usul {science of affirming God’s Unity}.

From the perspective of politics, disputes {mainly political} broke out immediately following the death of the prophet, and again following the tragic event that led to the murder of the third caliph {Uthman}, this time heralding the breakdown of the political system established after the prophet’s death. The political disputes which turned into a theological ones. The political struggles over who should lead the Muslim community gave birth to three major groups: the KHAWARIJ, who opposed the fourth caliph; the SHI’A who supported Ali; and the MURJIYA, who tried to remain neutral. The three groups in there own ways influence a wide Muslim community, all claiming to be conservative and traditionalists of Prophet Muhammad. They are collectively known as “ahl sunnah wal-jama’h” The Khawarij that literally means rebels is the first group that stood against the leadership of Ali, who were of the view that a leader should be elected based on the community’s decision at later and could be removed if he deviate from the interests of the people. While the Shi’a on the other hand are of the view that political leadership, being the most important religious institution, could not be let for human reason to determine. They believed in the undisputed authority of the divinely ordained imam. They supported the view that each imam should designate his successor by virtue of divine authority vested in him. Another major issue to be looked at in Ilmu-l-kalam as a branch of Islamic Studies is the focus on theology. This aspect also has its own groups. One of these groups is the Qadariyyah, who are the proponent of Qadar or predestination. This group supports the freedom of the will. Also the MU’TAZILLA group who has the same view with the Qadariyyah. Apart from these two groups, there is the group of JABARIYA {determinist}. The QADARIYYAH and MU’TAZILLA are of the opinion that human are responsible for their actions and acts. They believed that it would be a form of redundancy if man were to be punished on what he does not have

authority on. While the Jabariyyah at the other extreme with some faction of the Shia’h and Khawarij accepted the idea of predestination, holding that God was the creator of the acts of people, and nothing occurs which hr did not will. This was also the view of mainstream orthodox and traditional groups who affirms that the will of God was supreme and that he was the creator of all human acts, whether evil or good; nothing could happen on earth that contradicts his will. To bring to an end, Ilmu-l-kalam can seen as a branch of Islamic Studies which spread its tentacles to look at various perspectives of different groups in respect of Islamic doctrines, principles and facts to shed more lights on theological issues affecting the practice of Islam.

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